My Distant Aunt…and I
Jayshree Misra Tripathi
MY DISTANT AUNT…
She squats, frieze figurine,
On the sun-drenched verandah,
Glances at the dancing women
Splayed across the mud wall,
In gay abandon, rice-flour etchings
Safely frozen in time.
She stretches her legs, feline, unwinds,
Grasps the navy blue bottle, twirls the cork
Watches the spill…scarlet, aflame,
The blood of her ancestors
Quell her aching heart,
As she fingers the purple of her cheek
Flicks away the weeping salt,
The twig, the cotton, suddenly conjoined.
She dips into the sacrificial red
Icy cold alta liquid,
Fills in the cracks of her weathered heels
Parched recesses, painful monuments,
The history of her misshapen feet.
She stretches her toes in abandonment
Smiles, admires her primal artistry
Unknots the twisted corner of her pallu
Slips the evergreen paan
Into the caverns of her toothless mouth.
Now desirable, ornamental,
Ambrosia sucked greedily.
Descendant of contented servitude
Beautifying self before the altar
Of truth, insensitive to
The poverty of Life.
He saunters out, belly swaying
His dohti tied loose
To digest his meal.
Pakhal Bhatha, onions, lime pickle,
Some fried brinjal, frugal repast
In this land of ancestors,
In the village of his youth .
He lowers himself
Into the solitary chair
Mesmerized by the familiar landscape
Pre-siesta, afternoon heat.
Glances at her, his chattel
Touchstone for unbridled fury
Is not lost, no dearth
Of undying admiration in her gaze,
Bondage, seven lifetimes, so Blessed.
She stares at me rudely, discontented,
I stare back, relax the corners of my mouth
Fashion a sultry smile, nod
To the sullen stranger in the mirrored wall.
She stuffs wads of cotton between my weathered fingers
Splayed for dissection.
Bored, begins to spread the viscous liquid
In straight, soft lines.
With weary soul.
Rigor mortis, I declare…
She shakes her coiffure’ d hair
Unclench, she dictates, eyes narrowed,
I fear her strokes will ruin
She scoffs at the purple patch on my cheek
Foundation skillfully applied
Cannot deny my unloved state.
De-stress, no wrinkling, I admonish myself,
Future Mistress tonight
Of painted talons, clutching wine-stems,
Stave off the apprehension,
Of icy veins, parched souls
Sipping my Life’s blood.
Alta is a red liquid used by Hindu women to decorate soles of feet; auspicious
Pallu is the end of the sari draped over the left shoulder; often draped over head in deference to elders.
Paan is betelnuts in a leaf, usually chewed after meals
Dohti is belt-like sash
Pahkhal Bhatha is cooked rice with salt and yogurt; a staple food in the eastern state of Orissa
Brinjal means aubergine (eggplant)
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN Vol.8. No.3 March 2002 pp 399-402
© 2002 Sage Publications
Reproduced by permission of the author
7th June 2017
Its the scorching heat today, with the simmering wind that fans you – a whiff of cool air from the long suffering air-conditioner. I find there is a flurry of activity on social media. London Bridge. The ICC Champions Trophy match with Pakistan. Then a sudden feeling of deja -vu – as I read reviews of Meena Kandaswamy’s new book ‘When I Hit You’ and words to the effect of when your home is a prison….my heart pounds to over 33 years ago. 1984. Bitter irony that. 1984. I decided to leave. With my two little girls, aged 5 and 3. I was 28. No, I did not have the financial means to pack my bags, declare my intentions and do so with an air of bravado. I was frightened. After seven years of onslaught, bitter words, mental and physical harassment. Yes, Meena Kandaswamy’s truth and fiction wrought into narrative indeed stoked my own memories. All those decades ago. I wrote an article for Femina afterwards on new beginnings.Little did I realise then all that was in store for me. The taunts. The innuendos.Days dragged into months, years before a divorce was granted – after I gave up all my rights.Mutual consent? That is a ludicrous concept. You give in if you want out. Promises are made ‘for the children’, but broken, more often than not. Did I ask for it? Why did I stay? Why did I bear children? It was not a quick decision. Not a hasty one. I even thought I must endure for the sake of my daughters- for their education, their rights, but an unstable relationship fraught with violence was not a good atmosphere for them. Remember this was 1984. Witnessing occasions when the children were rudely brushed aside with annoyance, I decided it was time. The phone call to my mother shocked her speechless.She sobbed and my heart ached with sadness. My father returned from court and called me. As I spoke, out of nowhere, a fist punched my back, so I bit back the words I wanted to say, instead muttered inanities…..the usual rubbish…”am fine.” I reached out to them as I buckled. It was them. The stalwarts in my life – my parents, my father barely in his fifties and my mother a decade younger.They came to my rescue. Incessant rains in early June 1984 had turned Calcutta into a cesspool. 60, 000 telephone lines were down. I froze in fear as I had been asked to wait for a call and then just be ready to leave. Flights and trains were cancelled the day my mother was due to arrive.The stillness in my heart was compounded by the awareness that it was going to be just another day, with its dose of not knowing what would happen next and why – what caused the anger, the fury, flaying fists and the sheer contempt? Schools were closed. Banks were open. I told the helper to go and rest in his quarters and waited for the phone to ring. I did not dare to pick up the receiver to check if the line was dead or not. Would they come? Please come. Please come – I prayed. The girls played. The low tring- tring made me gasp – I can still feel that moment – the fear, hope – all entangled. “Will be there in 20 minutes”. There were few vehicles on the streets. My father waded through the water into two or three streets, he said later, before he found a taxi, that kept its engine revved, as the driver was afraid to turn it off in case it did not start again. We drove back towards the hotel and got into another car to drive back home. My father and his former professor had driven all through the night, after all the flights and trains were cancelled.It had rained constantly.Nerve-racking. In 1984. It took hours. The girls slept, smiling at this ‘adventure” with their golden-haired Jeannie dolls in their laps. I sat gazing through the rain that lashed the window panes. We drew up to the house, our safe haven for the next two years. The seeds of desolation remained. After a cup of tea, I took my girls into the bedroom and clutched them tight. Sleep. We needed to sleep. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word…mamma’s going to buy you a mockingbird.” My voice broke. 1984 June 7th was the morning I reached home and read about Operation Bluestar. A karmic symbol? Scars remain – in us all – the children too, even now. It was hard – the breaking away, the ‘D’ word, especially for the children at school – but it had to be done. No regrets. My Real Prince Charming took my hand in 1986 and held my daughters’ tiny palms tight and we stepped forward, to brave the world and all the nay-sayers. I was one of the lucky ones.